Are You Assertive or Difficult?
There is a subtle difference between being a “yes man” and being assertive and a pleasant individual to work with. I myself might appear to the untrained eye as a yes man. I’m generally agreeable, and probably avoid conflict in the workplace to a detriment because I’m much more willing and interested to see how someone else’s suggested path will work instead of my own. Perhaps I am still young, naïve, and haven’t seen too many failures at the fingertips of my peers. But I think I’m pleasant to work with. In contrast to myself, I have dealt with people who are incredibly pessimistic about work, about having to do work, about the thought of work, but not work itself.
What gives? Why would you gripe and whine about everything but the action itself? These individuals are more than happy while they are engaged and undisturbed in their work, but for some reason talking about it with others, solving problems as a team, or being given new tasks is like pulling teeth.
This got me thinking about my own actions in the workplace, especially when being introspective about my feelings toward work. I’ve occasionally had a pit of anxiety off and on while at work recently, and I have been trying to find out why that is. Was I unsatisfied with the work I was executing? Was I not managing my project properly? Was I wasting time and feeling like I wasn’t contributing enough to the bigger picture? I couldn’t pinpoint where it was coming from (and I still haven’t), but I knew that it was internally driven, as all emotions are. How you respond to every situation that you’re placed in is entirely up to you. You get to choose your reactions, no matter what. No one forces you to feel any way at all.
I asked myself, do I respond to every situation in a way that creates drama or stifles it? In my anecdotal experience with the individual described above, they had no reason to behave the way they did – especially since they actually enjoyed the work when they were doing it! It simply made them difficult to deal with. They created drama out of nothing. I didn’t want to give them work when I needed it done, simply because I didn’t want to hear the gripes and woe-is-me spiel that would inevitably come with being assigned a simple task. Email is useless because it either gets ignored, in which case you need to go interrupt their current work to insure they understood their assignment, or it’s understood and they don’t reply, in which case you need to bug them in person to confirm. Either way, no one gets what they wants: I have to do extra work to assign a simple task. They need to get bugged again and again when everyone (including themselves) hates the interaction. Wouldn’t it just be easier to accept the work and do it? They are hard to work with. Perhaps this was their intention, in order to avoid work they made themselves intentionally difficult to deal with so people would be disinclined to talk to them about stuff they were getting paid to do.
You have a choice when your boss walks up and says they need help or for you to take over on a task. Perhaps you don’t have the answer. Maybe you don’t know where to start. Maybe you’re swamped with other work and spread too thin already. You get to choose in this situation to create drama or stifle it. Creating it would be talking about how much time it’s going to take, why X, Y, and Z won’t work, it’s going to be a challenge, the list goes on and on. Or you can say, “Cool boss, I’ll figure it out. I’ve got a shitpile of other work right now, can you give me an idea of the priority so I can schedule it with my other tasks?”
It's talking like this that makes you pleasant to work with. It also makes it so coworkers and supervisors aren’t afraid to give you extra work, so be careful. Sometimes you need to draw the line, and as long as you’re firm and assertive, you can still dodge the task drama free. “I’m pretty busy right now, if it can wait let’s meet about it in a few days. If it can’t wait, I can assist in finding someone else who is capable of taking on the task.” The cool thing about management is that you don’t really do anything. You just delegate. And when you have competent people working for you that also have the innate ability to delegate, all you have to do is play telephone a few times and something gets done. If your subordinates are competent enough to get the message right when they pass it down the chain of command, your job and theirs become that much easier.
Assertive gets the job done. It asks questions only when necessary and appropriate. Assertive doesn’t interrupt, steamroll, bitch, whine, or gripe. It takes the problem, puts it in a little black box, and spits out a solution with a nice bow. Difficult smells the problem, tells you all the reasons it can’t be solved, how bad it smells/ looks/ tastes, difficult finally chokes down the problem and craps out a solution. Maybe the solution is even ok. It probably doesn’t have a bow, and took 3 times as long and blew the budget, but it’s done.
So if you had a choice whether you wanted assertive or difficult people working for your business, which ones would you want? So be one of those people.
Stop whining, do the work, do it right, and get the bone.
Maybe it is hard. When has hard stopped anyone worth a shit?